Bob Hoffman
Nov 1, 2021

A perfect brief is one sentence long

THE AD CONTRARIAN: There is perhaps no bigger waste of time, energy, and resources in the client-agency relationship than what is laughingly called "the briefing process".

A perfect brief is one sentence long

There are those who think of marketing people as little more than chardonnay-sipping bullshit artists who take the obvious and make it incomprehensible. This is not fair. Some drink zinfandel.

Along these lines...there is perhaps no bigger generator of bullshit, and no bigger waste of time, energy, and resources in the client-agency relationship than what is laughingly called "the briefing process". The briefing process is an ongoing comedy series in which clients are supposed to give agencies strategic direction on creative projects.

The problem is that most clients have no idea what their strategy is and consequently fill the briefing document with pages of useless marketing bullshit, doubletalk, and jargon that only serve to confuse the shit out of the process.

Agencies, having investing in everything but their creative departments, use lousy briefs as a wretched excuse for the crap they are producing.

Recently, two Aussie strategists, Matt Davies and Pieter-Paul von Weiler, undertook an excellent study to see how clients assess the briefs they create and how agencies assess these same briefs. The results are alarming—but not at all surprising. Here are a few of their findings.


(I want to be clear that what follows are my dumbass opinions and not Matt and Pieter-Paul's)

I have never seen more compelling evidence that the whole "briefing process" is a ridiculous shit show and waste of time. There is no universe, or even a metaverse, in which the two parties could be further apart.

The primary reason for this is that the entire briefing process is constructed on two fundamental misconceptions:

  1. The assumption that most clients have a clear, specific, and comprehensible  strategy that they can communicate.
  2. The assumption that ad strategy is more important than creativity.

As you might expect, I don't believe either of these.

A perfect brief is one sentence long. Anything more is just evidence that the marketing people are confused. The more confused they are, the more horseshit they pile on.

Perhaps even worse, agencies use "the brief" to abdicate their responsibility for producing imaginative creative work by asserting that they need the brilliance of MBAs to take them by the hand and help them across the street. This is pathetic.

In furtherance of my beliefs, this week I wrote a piece that pissed-off legions of jargon-spewing brief jockies. It questioned many of the assumptions that pass for wisdom in our industry. It tries to answer the question, "What the hell is advertising supposed to do, anyway?"

It's called "The three-word brief." If you work in advertising or marketing and you'd like a different perspective on the whole thing from the one you're getting, I think you'll like it.


Bob Hoffman is the author of several best-selling books about advertising, a popular international speaker on advertising and marketing, and the creator of 'The Ad Contrarian' newsletter, where this first appeared, and blog. Earlier in his career he was CEO of two independent agencies and the US operation of an international agency.

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